When is the time to take the next job?
Coaches have chances to go, but the question begs: Is the grass really greener?
Gregg Marshall has been a head coach now for 16 years.
For all but maybe a handful of them, he's been asked the same question: Why are you still here?
Why are you still at Winthrop?
Why haven't you moved on from Wichita State?
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"It's like corporate America,'' Marshall said. "It's a culture, almost. Why aren't you scratching and climbing up the corporate ladder? Why don't you want more? Why are you still here?''
The query really has nothing to do with Winthrop or Wichita State, little frankly even to do with Marshall. It goes more to what has long been the perceived and frequently realized natural inclination of college basketball coaches, the chronic quest to enjoy the greener grasses.
For years, basketball coaches followed the same trajectory -- achieve at the low-major level, jump to the mid-major seat and eventually grab the brass ring of the high major, signaling one's arrival as tops in the profession.
Except lately some have put the skids to that plan. If it's not yet a complete trend, patience and even, dare we say it, contentedness, are at the very least making a comeback.
This week ESPN.com will look at some of the hottest names on the coaching carousel wish list and what it might take for each to move on. But before we examine why they might leave it's worth first asking what's making them stay.
Marshall, despite overtures from Missouri this year and other schools in previous years, isn't going anywhere. Perennial "It" coach Shaka Smart just finished his fifth year at VCU, still there three seasons after the Rams went to the Final Four. Louisiana Tech's Mike White said no thank you to Tennessee. Bob McKillop eschewed the chance to jump after Davidson's Steph Curry-fueled run, and despite many suitors in deeper-pocketed leagues, Jay Wright has stayed put at Villanova.
And for years before he finally agreed to coach the Boston Celtics, Butler's Brad Stevens rejected every advance.
So what gives?
"For a long time in our business, to be someplace where athletics or, even more, basketball was very important, you had to keep moving up,'' Wright said. "Now it's important at far more places. You don't have to just go to the biggest BCS school to have passionate alumni, passionate fans and a committed administration. You don't have to move up to get what you want.''
What coaches want is really no different from what anyone else wants out of a career -- to be successful, happy and appropriately compensated. All three hold deeply personal interpretations.
Stevens had plenty of chances to leave Butler after taking the Bulldogs to two national championship game appearances. Instead he stayed, stunning people who wondered what it was he was looking for.
What those people failed to understand -- despite Stevens' countless attempts to explain it -- was that he wasn't measuring his quality of life by someone else's prestige meter. He didn't need the big name job to be happy or feel accomplished. He already had both.
"It's about how you define big time,'' Stevens said. "You're not judging your decision in a vacuum, just on the perception that this is a big school that's won more games in the past. You judge it much more personally than that. I heard someone say a long time ago and it really rings true -- make it the big time where you are."
Marshall has followed a similar motto. Years ago his Winthrop team was playing against Memphis. Then-Memphis coach John Calipari offered his opponent's team the Tigers' practice facility and afterward Calipari spoke to Marshall. By then Marshall already had won plenty at Winthrop and the drumbeat to get out was sounding louder and louder -- much like it is now at Wichita State.
Still Marshall ignored it. He explained his rationale to Calipari -- that he was happy where he was; that he felt like he could win; that he was building something; and most of all, that his administration respected and helped with what he was trying to do.
"Cal said, 'Effectively, what you've done is made Winthrop your next job,' '' Marshall said. "That's so true. He did the same thing at UMass and at Memphis. Instead of making that intermediate step -- there were 15 to 20 jobs I could have taken while I was at Winthrop -- at the end of each year, I'd sit down and say, 'This is what we need to do to make Winthrop better.' That's what I'm doing now at Wichita State.''
The real difference, though -- and the real reason that there is maybe a little more stability in the coaching ranks -- is that administrations are listening. Imbued by the Final Four runs of George Mason, VCU, Butler and Wichita State, other schools are recognizing not only that their programs could be similarly successful but also that basketball success resonates for the entire university.
Four years ago, after Ali Farokhmanesh stuck a dagger in Kansas' heart, Northern Iowa actually looked at the numbers, comparing before and after Farokhmanesh's daring 3-pointer went in. The school found a 1,577 percent increase in online sales, a 267 percent increase in unique visitors to the school's website and a 30 percent increase in calls to the admissions office on the day after UNI beat Kansas.
With that sort of research and just anecdotal evidence to go on, schools are investing more in their basketball budgets. According to the Department of Education's most recent gender-equity numbers, Villanova's basketball operating expenses were $7.39 million and Wichita State's were $5.36 million. VCU came in at $5.05 million.
USA Today, meanwhile, reported that Wright is making $2.48 million, Marshall $1.79 million and Smart $1.53 million.
Those numbers are still a far cry from, say, Duke, where the basketball team's expenses run an average of $15.1 million and Mike Krzyzewski makes $9.68 million, but they represent a significant financial commitment from schools that don't get the big football money boost from their conferences.
"There's certainly a trend in schools stepping up to increase the resources they're putting into a program to keep a coaching staff,'' Smart said. "It's not just about coaches' pay, but the resources overall a school is willing to dedicate to a program.''
There are, of course, some things money can't buy (well, at least not without an NCAA violation) and that's talent. Gordon Hayward was a lottery pick out of Butler. Kenneth Faried went 22nd overall from Morehead State and Cleanthony Early looks like a first-rounder for Wichita State.
That's not normal.
The combination of one-and-dones at the high-major level with seniors at the mid-majors has helped close the gap between programs. Still, coaches who elect not to jump do so knowing that at one point they might run into a chasm they can't hop.
"When you run into a team that's playing its best basketball and is just so immensely talented, that's the one time it smacks you in the face,'' Smart said. "We played Michigan in the second game this year and all of their starters were NBA guys and it wasn't even close.''
But Smart, who labels himself a creature of habit, still sees more reasons to stay. The gig he has, with a supportive administration and a winning tradition, is better than a lot of the ones that will open. Only on the rare occasion does a coach retire, leaving in his wake a successful, stable program (and even then there is the challenge of being the guy to follow the guy, a minefield that Kevin Ollie defied the odds by negotiating masterfully).
Usually there's a vacancy for a reason and the coaching profession is littered with the roadkill of guys who moved up only to fall backward -- Todd Lickliter, Jeff Lebo and Dan Monson.
By staying, of course, Smart, Marshall, Wright and the rest in their lot run the risk of going from "It" coach to yesterday's news. But in the end that risk seems less dicey than the alternative.
"Yeah, there's definitely a consideration for that,'' said Wright, who toyed with that very issue when the 76ers came calling five years ago. "But you can also flip that around. Instead of worrying that a chance might not come around again, I think a lot of guys are thinking, what if I don't get another opportunity like the job I've got right now?''
Which is why these days when people ask, why are you still here, a lot of coaches counter with, why would I leave?